Sunday, January 20, 2013

Welcome to Habana - The B is Silent and the Silent B is Pronounced Like a V

(Ed. note:  Some of da boiz are doing the traveling thing these days, and CC wishes he was, hence the timely posting of something he should have put up years ago when he actually went to Cuba.  Also, CC wanted to pass on to Yeamax; "maybe he'll get off his ass and finally start transcribing the Ron Diaries!".  Also, he would like to apologize for his complete and utter lack of understanding of past, present and future tenses.)

Note from the actual editor:  I'm confused. Good luck, dear readers.

I stumbled out into the street, half on account of the cracked and uneven side walk, and half on account of still being half in the bag.  Awaking with what could only be described as an enjoyable foreign hangover, it had quickly been decided between me and my partner in crime that I would be the one to venture out in search of water.  I wanted to smoke a cigarette anyway, and being the polite guy that I am, thought best not to do so in the shared bedroom.

I almost fell over when I left the door of the apartment building but quickly regained my composure.  My eyes took much more time to adjust than I would have liked. The tropical sun had invaded my pupils in such a way that it felt like I was in one of those scenes in a movie, when the character exits a dark room into bright light and everything goes white.  I was just thankful I remembered my sunglasses, since otherwise I would have been blind. And with the penchant in this particular corner of Havana for a, shall we say, laissez-faire attitude towards all manner of traffic signals, signs and common sense, functioning sight was important.  The sun came down and illuminated every crack, chip and hole in the concrete around me.

Music was everywhere, and in this neighbourhood it wasn't Cuban jazz.  Eminem, Rihanna and whatever other pop music that had been popular just previously in North America was pouring and clashing out of many apartments.  The thing I remember most, though, were the whistles.  Everyone had their own whistle here, and it could mean anything from "Buenos dias!" to "Do you want to sleep with me later?". People whistled up to balconies to get the door key dropped down to them (because of the inevitable broken buzzer system) and whistled down to notify someone of a last minute addition to a shopping list.  Other than that, it was the same as any other city; cars honking, bike bells ringing, people chatting and haggling.  Except of course I was extremely hung over, slightly drunk and wandering around desperately in search of the corner store (!) (that we were getting drunk at the night previously) to buy some precious bottled water.

Many of the side streets resembled what I can only imagine Sarajevo looked like after several years of siege.  The whole place looked war-torn, but there hadn't been any warfare in this city since Castro and his gang took the city over in 1959.  So I guess it could be chalked up to Communism-inspired neglect.  Buildings were split, leaning some completely fallen over.  Piles of rubble seemed to take an awful long time to be cleaned up.  Many buildings were hollowed out, the concrete falling off of the façades in big flakes.  Don't get me wrong though, the place wasn't empty or decrepit, just falling apart.  Tiny coffee bars and snack windows occupied the front of ground floor apartments, laundry was drying on second and third floor patios, and everyone was actively engaged in what I have affectionately termed "balcony culture", a kind of reality show without the television where you could lean, smoke and watch.

I can't remember what day it was, but I'm sure it wasn't an appropriate one to be stumbling around on the morning of.  Although I'm sure I wasn't surprising any of the population.  High quality rum was so cheap here that I would imagine they are all used to it by now, but for someone such as myself, a lover of the 'cane juice, it was a utopia.  And anyway the policing is such that, even in the downtown core of the capital city of this country, if someone even looks at a tourist in the wrong way it's off to prison for them.

I finally found the store and thanked whoever is up there that the staff had switched over from the night before.  Entering the air-conditioned store (a luxury around these parts) was like diving into a cold bath, and I quickly nabbed two one-and-half litre bottles, paid for 'em, and dove back into the sunlight.  I downed one of the bottles on my now much more relaxing walk back to our digs for the week.

I was informed upon returning that the drinking water was located in the laundry room, off the kitchen.

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